For one game it looked as if Buffalo Sabres coach Phil Housley's message got through to his players. After a thoroughly embarrassing 7-1 loss at the hands of the Dallas Stars on Saturday afternoon, Housley was said to have put his players through a hard skate on Sunday while also drastically changing up his lines in an effort to shake his team out of their malaise. A western Canada swing lie ahead for Buffalo with three games in four nights before the All-Star break.
Housley's lines were as follows:
Zemgus Girgensons-Jack Eichel-Kyle Okposo
Scott Wilson-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane-Johan Larsson-Jason Pominville
Jordan Nolan-Evan Rodrigues-Nicolas Baptiste
The result was a 2-1 overtime win for the Sabres on the road in Calgary while attempting one more shot than the Flames (63-62) and matching them shot for shot on goal (33.)
Scattered about the talent within the top-nine for the Calgary game were three players known to be hard on the puck. Girgensons, Wilson and Larsson's skills lie more in their dogged pursuit of the puck than scoring goals (7 goals in 104 games combined) and each of them seemed quite content getting their noses dirty for the skilled players on their respective lines.
Girgensons and Wilson seemed to up the compete-level on their lines which resulted in Wilson scoring a goal that tied the game only :24 seconds after Calgary took a 1-0 lead. He and his linemates went in on a hard forecheck and when the puck squirted out to him in the high slot, Wilson wasted no time sending it home.
As for Girgensons, he was added to a pairing of Eichel and Okposo, two players that have been clicking as of late. With his role clearly defined as creating havoc in the offensive zone and getting the puck to his linemates, it was a situation that worked out well for all of them. From the get-go Eichel and especially Okposo, were getting loads of scoring chances but were continually stymied by a tough goalie in veteran Mike Smith.
Girgensons continued to do the dirty work for his linemates and with only :32 seconds left in the third period and the score tied 1-1, he drew a holding penalty while battling in front of the net. That powerplay carried into overtime where Eichel sent a blistering slapshot shortside to beat Smith a mere only one second after the man-advantage ended.
Props to Housley for that one as he kept his big guns--Eichel, O'Reilly, Okposo and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen--on the ice for the entire 4-on-3 powerplay in overtime.
The Sabres played a hard, tough game that included plenty of hits and a determined effort to win puck battles and commit to a strong back check.
All would have been for naught, however, had goalie Chad Johnsons not come up with some big saves at crucial moments. Johnson, who's not been very good this season, did his skaters a solid by keeping the score tied until they could win it in overtime. It was only his second win of the season and first one since a 3-1 road win in Anaheim on October 15, a span of 10 starts.
Of course, all the good will that came from last night's team win will prove meaningless unless they can put together another strong effort against another fast team in the Edmonton Oilers.
This will be the second and final regular season meeting between the two clubs. The first one came in Buffalo the day after Thanksgiving with the Sabres in the throes of an 0-5-2 slump. Goalie Robin Lehner lead the charge that night by stopping 29 of 30 Edmonton shots while the Sabres got goals from Jacob Josefson, Eichel and Okposo (empty-net.) In Sabreland, Lehner pulled off the 'Ryan Miller Shutout' by allowing the Oilers only goal with :20 seconds left in the game.
Edmonton's Connor McDavid was held off the scoresheet by Buffalo in the first meeting of the season and finished the game with a minus-2 rating in 22:13 of ice-time. Eichel had the goal and was a plus-2 in 17:10 of ice-time.
Since McDavid and Eichel were taken first and second overall, respectively, in the 2015 NHL Draft, Edmonton and Buffalo have met five times with both McDavid and Eichel missing one game each in the series. The Sabres are 3-1-1 so far against Edmonton in the McEichel-era. McDavid has four points (2+2) in his four games while Eichel has three (2+1) in his four. Edmonton won the first-ever meeting at home 4-2 minus McDavid in 2015 while the Sabres beat the Oilers 6-2 last year in Edmonton minus Eichel.
With Johnson getting the start last night in the first game of a back-to-back, Lehner will probably be in net tonight against Edmonton. Lehner's numbers have been terrible as of late as he's been pulled in three of his last five starts, is 0-4-0, has allowed 19 goals on 114 shots (.833 save percentage) and a 5.50 goals-against average. Although it's not all on him, when he's failed to make a big save at an important time, this team seems to fall apart.
Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu suffered a possible concussion, according to reports, only minutes into last night's game. Beaulieu was clipped by Flames forward Curtis Lazar clipped him behind the Buffalo net. Beaulieu didn't take kindly and dropped the gloves with a very willing Lazar who got a couple quick shots in during the short bout and ended up slamming Beaulieu's head into the ice.
With Beaulieu out tonight and defenseman Josh Gorges suffering an illness, we could see the return of rookie Victor Antipin to the Sabres blueline. Antipin had a long bout with a tough flu that was bookended by healthy scratches that have kept him off the ice since December 19, a span of 13 games.
Buffalo did call up Matt Tennyson from the Rochester Americans today and it's possible that he gets the start over Antipin. Most in Sabreland want to see more of Antipin, especially with the season lost already. Tennyson has played in 14 games for the Sabres this season with zero points and a minus-8 plus/minus rating.
Antipin has played in 24 games with four assists and a minus-3 rating.
Grab yourselves a box of Kleenex when watching this Beyond the Blue and Gold video.
A young hockey-loving Sabres fan named Ethan Georger has had a difficult childhood dealing with a terrible disease that caused him to have two open heart surgeries before he turned seven years old. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Ethan, who loves playing X-box hockey, got the opportunity to play the video game against his favorite player--the Sabres' Jack Eichel.
And from there, we'll let the video, courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres, speak for itself: